Thursday, March 19, 2009

Soccer Pimp: Toronto FC - No Ticket To Be Had

So much for those who said Toronto FC's success would be a flash in the pan, an anomaly that would right itself in time: for the third straight season, Toronto FC has sold every ticket of every game.

There's a wonderful write-up in the Globe and Mail by Neil Davidson, which explains how the stadium had a lot to do with the franchise's success. It's caught a lot of people by surprise, including those that brought the team to Toronto:

"I get asked this question all the time. 'Did you ever expect it to be so successful out of the gate?"' says Tom Anselmi, executive vice-president and CEO for Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment. "The answer is 'No, we didn't actually.'

"We believed that soccer was going to succeed in this market, we knew there's lots of soccer fans. The question was would they buy into Major League Soccer? We didn't really know that."

I have to admit that although I thought the team could thrive in the Toronto market, I wasn't expecting this kind of over-the-top success. No one did. The Toronto Lynx had toiled in obscurity for years in the USL, a league just one notch below Major League Soccer. In this respect, Montreal was a better logical fit for an MLS team, considering they had been drawing thousands of fans per game operating in the same league as the Lynx. However, the Toronto bid had the backing of the MLSE behemoth, and a soccer-specific stadium plan to go with it. I bet there was a lot of nail-biting from the MLS and MLSE offices once the franchise was awarded to Toronto.

I was present at that first home game in 2007. It was a chilly April afternoon and I had made the trip with my buddy Daddio, the tickets being a Christmas gift from Laura. I knew the game was sold out, but I didn't quite know what to expect. If anything I expected the typical Toronto crowd from Leafs and Jays games that sit on their hands. Boy was I wrong.

MLSE made the brilliant decision of assigning a section of the stadium to the most hardcore fans, the Red Patch Boys. These fans, many also associated to The Voyageurs, took the bull by the horns and created an atmosphere I had only experienced in European football stadiums and during the NHL playoffs (actually, it was better than the NHL playoffs). Singing, drumming, chanting, throwing streamers onto the field - they made a 1-0 defeat feel like a resounding victory. They showed everyone what an organized group of supporters could create, something North America is not used to (except for college football). BMO field became the story that day, and has continued to offer the best soccer atmosphere in North America. No one even comes close.

The success of Toronto FC is what has me optimistic about soccer's chances in other non-traditional Canadian markets. I'll have more on this in the future, but the tide is turning in this country, and the old guard better be on alert because the cliché, go-to put downs are becoming moot and their worst fears - a soccer renaissance in Canada - are coming true.


Devin said...

TFC games are unlike any other sporting event I have attended in person. Everyone seems to care about the game so much more than your regular hockey or baseball match (those are the only 2 sports I've seen live) and it makes it exponentially more exciting being in the crowd because of that.

Saying that, I'm disappointed all the tickets have sold out because I was definitely hoping to get my grubby little paws on some. I guess I'll have to resort to self-employed entrepreneurs that have their offices right outside BMO Field.

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